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Bruno Ferrandis, the tall, lanky Frenchman who loves Mahler, Russian music and ancient languages, will conduct his final concerts as the music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony on May 5-7, bidding “au revoir” to Sonoma County after an historic, 12-year tenure.

Beloved for his charm and sense of humor, his big heart and his small ego, the maestro will say goodbye with Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 — the composer’s farewell symphony, written after his daughter’s death — and the U.S. premiere of Czech composer Michal Rataj’s “Temporis,” featuring the cymbalom, an Eastern European hammered dulcimer.

“There will be a surprise in that concerto,” Ferrandis told the Santa Rosa Symphony League during a lunch earlier this month. “I’m always experimenting with new things.”

The eclectic and versatile conductor, who ushered the orchestra through its transition from the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts into the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in 2012, said his future plans include guest conducting, opera conducting and perhaps helping to create a new ensemble. He also hopes to spend more time with his daughters: Cassandre, 15, and Alma, 9.

“After 12 very intense years, I want to enjoy my daughters more,” he said. “I want to rest.”

Like the orchestra’s newly appointed music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, Ferrandis was the symphony board’s unanimous choice as the orchestra’s fourth music director back in July 2006. His appointment came before the recession of 2008 and before the construction of the long-awaited Green Music Center was delayed indefinitely. Then he started commuting from Paris to Santa Rosa every month or so during the season, enduring tight security, weather delays and jet lag on both sides.

“I have plenty of energy left, but year after year, the trip was the most difficult part,” Ferrandis confessed in a phone interview in 2016, after announcing that he would step down at the end of the 2017-2018 season.

Born in Algiers, raised in Nice and having ancestral roots in both Spain and Italy, Ferrandis said he has always felt at home in the Mediterranean climate of Sonoma County, where staff, musicians and subscribers welcomed him warmly and the landscape looked familiar.

“The visits into the most beautiful villas around Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Road, and the little Geyserville and Sebastopol, the elegance of Healdsburg, the visits to the shores of Bodega Bay — all that made me feel really at home,” he said. “Plus the extreme kindness and sense of hospitality of the people here in Santa Rosa.”

When asked for some highlights of his time here, Ferrandis singled out the symphony’s “extraordinary” education department, especially its “Simply Strings” program; the friendships he established with staff and audience members “year after year,” and the orchestra itself which has grown into what he described as “a very capable entity,” attracting high-caliber new musicians.

From the start, Ferrandis was always excited about the potential of the Green Music Center’s main venue, an intimate hall built in a shoebox shape to enhance the acoustics.

“I remember myself sitting outside, on the lawn, listening, and one viola player was warming up,” he said. “I could hear so precisely what they were practicing, as if I was very close to them.”

But once the orchestra moved into the hall, the musicians had to adapt to the new space, and he recalled that was often difficult to make everyone happy.

“We got into the problem of heights of risers, and no risers vs. risers,” he said. “Compared to the LBC, we have physically a lot less room on stage, and also the problem of having a chorus so high up. We conductors have to move a lot, and the orchestra has got to listen a lot.”

Little by little, however, the issues were resolved under Ferrandis’ calm and reliable leadership.

“Everyone has told me the orchestra sounds incredible,” he said. “I believe yes, the orchestra has grown a lot.”

As for musical highlights, the maestro listed the many works he programmed over the years by living composers, especially the premieres; all the romantic works from the Germans, Russian and Czechs; Mozart and Haydn; “of course” the French, Italian and Spanish composers; quite a few U.S. composers; the “extraordinary soloists”; and all the requiems and oratorios performed with singers.

“So many incredible memories,” he said. “And from time to time, some great wine tasting in Sonoma.”

When he came back to lead a special concert in November to raise money for the October fire victims, Ferrandis was taken on a tour of some of Santa Rosa’s burned-out neighborhoods, including Coffey Park, where Patron Services Manager Brenda Fox lost her home.

“Brenda took me to visit the sites and to the forest,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much vast destruction in all my life.”

On a lighter note, Ferrandis also rang up the symphony’s newly chosen music director Lecce-Chong to congratulate him on being chosen as his successor.

“He is the most wonderful human being,” Ferrandis said. “He’s young, and that’s a big asset today, in the conductor’s profession. It’s good for the orchestra to rejuvenate.”

Although Ferrandis programmed the upcoming season in 2018-2019, Lecce-Chong will conduct three of the seven concert sets. Ferrandis was invited to return as a guest conductor for the final concert featuring Russian-American pianist Olga Kern and an all-Russian program.

“By fate or by choice, I ended up with a program that I like,” he said. “One thing I wish for Francesco is, please, conduct the music that you love. That’s how you transfer the love to the orchestra.”

But Ferrandis stopped short of giving any other programming advice to Lecce-Chong, another Renaissance man who has studied piano, violin and composing.

“He’s very creative, and I hope he can express his creativity,” Ferrandis said. “I will help him and give him anything he needs ... but the programming is his own journey.”

Ferrandis will be feted after each concert on May 5, 6 and 7 with benefit receptions in Prelude Restaurant featuring hors d’oeuvres, wine and the chance to say “Merci beaucoup” to the maestro in person. Tickets are $100 and must be reserved in advance at 707-546-8742 or srsymphony.org.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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